Dragonball: Evolution (PG)
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This is based on the anime and manga Dragon Ball, and its sequel series Dragonball Z, though there are some changes. In the original series, Goku was a rather strange little kid with a tail, who happened to be really strong, and didn't know anyone except his grandpa Gohan (who died sometime before the series begins). In the movie, he's just turned 18, and still lives with Gohan, who teaches him martial arts. (Btw, I wasn't sure what category to put this review in. I thought about martial arts, or science fiction, but ultimately I think fantasy is a slightly better fit.) What he learns includes more than just normal martial arts; there's also a way of using energy, from three different elements, apparently: air, water, and fire. In fact the movie occasionally uses the word "airbending," which naturally reminds me of the completely unrelated animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender (and there's one scene in the movie involving the lighting of lanterns that totally reminds me of a scene from season 2 of Avatar). Though I should say, I don't think much was ever said or done about these elements, especially I never saw anything with water. Though we do get to see the anime's classic Kamehameha wave (which I think was supposed to be airbending, here.) But, Gohan has made Goku promise never to fight anyone. So there are some bullies who pick on him at school, and even though he could easily beat them, he can't fight back. I think one of the bullies was dating a girl named Chi Chi (Jamie Chung). Goku has a crush on her... which brings me to another difference from the anime. Goku basically seems pretty normal (and certainly doesn't have a tail), and he has apparently been raised in a normal way, I mean, going to school and everything. And his thoughts probably aren't quite as pure as they are in the anime, though he's still a pretty good guy. Anyway, it turns out that Chi Chi has done some training similar to Goku's, so they make a connection based on that.
Meanwhile, there's a villain called Piccolo (James Marsters), an alien or whatever who had tried to take over the Earth 2000 years ago, but was sealed away under the earth by a group of mystics. I don't really know his backstory in the anime, except that he was a villain who Goku originally fought sometime prior to DBZ, but by the time I first saw him in that series, they became reluctant allies against a greater enemy. Anyway, in this movie he returns, though I don't think it was ever really explained how he escaped his imprisonment. But now he's searching for seven dragonballs. Goku had one which had been given to him by Gohan. When all seven are assembled, a dragon named Shen Long can be summoned to grant one wish. There's also a young woman named Bulma (Emmy Rossum), who's searching for the dragonballs herself. Her father is the head of Capsule Corp, which makes these little capsules that can expand into vehicles. Bulma is quite inventive herself, having created a gizmo that tracks dragonballs. She wants to find them to use as a source of power, to help the world and become famous. She and Goku team up to look for the dragonballs, after Gohan is killed by Piccolo. Oh, and I should say there's a woman named Mai (Eriko Tamura), who works for Piccolo. I thought that was odd, since she worked for Emperor Pilaf in the anime, but whatever. Also, Piccolo had a servant named Ozaru, a very powerful beast, who was also sealed away 2000 years ago. He'll be released on the upcoming solar eclipse, so Piccolo needs to be stopped before then.
Also, before dying, Gohan told Goku to seek out Master Roshi (Chow Yun-fat), who had been his own teacher. Roshi's not a very serious guy, but at least he's not quite as wacky (or perverted) as he is in the anime. It's also odd that he doesn't really seem older than Gohan. And eventually we meet his former teacher, who also doesn't seem older. And I don't know if that guy even existed in the anime at all. But they'll work on a back-up plan to reseal Piccolo, in case Goku fails in his mission. But before that, Goku, Bulma, and Roshi fall into a trap set by a bandit named Yamcha, though he also ends up joining them in their quest for the dragonballs. And they see Chi Chi again at a martial arts tournament in which she's competing. And... I don't really want to say any more about the plot, except that there are things we learn here that we didn't learn until DBZ in the anime, mainly about Goku's own nature; so, it's all kind of this weird mix of Dragon Ball and Dragonball Z, which as I said changes various things, and also leaves tons of stuff out. Not that it would be remotely possible to include everything from one series, let alone two. But anyway, at least the plot moves along a lot faster than the anime. It always kind of annoyed me how long it took for anything to happen in the show, though on the other hand, the fights were far more epic in the anime, even if too drawn out. They weren't nearly as good here. And the whole story was kind of a jumbled, rushed mess that didn't always make a lot of sense. Still, I thought it was reasonably fun, and probably didn't deserve to be quite as poorly reviewed by critics as it was. As a final note, I should mention there's an extra scene part way through the end credits, which would be important if they ever made a sequel, but I very much doubt that would happen....